Theologizing the linguistic: renegotiating semantic predicaments in intra-Islamic and interreligious relations


Author: Yaser Ellethy (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Linda Sauer Bredvik (Universität Heidelberg, Germany)
Marco Miotto (Democritus University of Thrace, Greece)
Matthew Ryan Robinson (Bonn University, Germany)
Mehd Berriah (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Speaker: Yaser Ellethy (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Linda Sauer Bredvik (Universität Heidelberg, Germany)
Marco Miotto (Democritus University of Thrace, Greece)
Matthew Ryan Robinson (Bonn University, Germany)
Mehd Berriah (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Topic: Interfaith Dialogue
COMELA 2022 Colloquium


Abstract

Language is a precondition of religion. Through it, a religious tradition emerges, evolves and generates it diversity. The relation between religion and language could be based on a hypothesis that a religious text has to do with three phases of linguistic evolution. The first is the “pre-existent”, which acts as the code in which the divine Word is revealed. The second is the “communicative”, with the mediation of a “Messenger”; where a new spectrum of language emerges and dominates through the holiness of a divine text. The third is the “diachronic”, which involves the semantic changes in language and its adaptability to the historical and cultural parameters; whereof an interpretive tradition is generated, with parallel levels of readings and understandings (Ellethy, 2013). A religious language emerges as a new code for the decryption of the divine message to a human medium of communication. Within the realm of this code, the human mind faces two levels of semantic knowledge: the superficial-linguistic (human), and the quintessential-religious (divine). Through this cognitional process, a religious culture and tradition evolves, expands and divaricates. As religion employs language, language employs religion. This is because we actually learn a new extra-language, different in vocabulary, syntax and semantics, in order to confess and proclaim our religious faith, pray, supplicate, and define our paradigmatic peculiarities compared to a religious “other”. Both the High and the Low Islamic cultures are manifestations of the scriptural and popular spectra of these linguistic shifts (Gellner, 1983, 1996). A long-term linguistic diachrony, when shifts in a Begriffsgeschichte become more salient, plays a significant role in shaping a religious culture and its intercommunication with otherness.

In this colloquium we discuss the impact of the semantics of religious-Islamic terms on interreligious relations in our modern societies. Linguistic, historical and theological perspectives will be shared and analyzed as to how they instrumentalize our understanding of “otherness” and shape our pluralistic notions and attitudes. The questions addressed in this colloquium include, but are not only bounded to, an interdisciplinary approach of sociolinguistic dilemmas of theological terminology as crystalized in modern and contemporary sociocultural encounters. How do the semantics of a religious language shape and affect our multi-faith encounters, intra-/interreligious and intercultural attitudes? Which aspects of an Islamic-religious Begriffsgeschichte could contribute to a hermeneutical reconstruction of intra-Islamic, interreligious and intercultural relations? Why and how the sociolinguistics of theology should be methodologically studied?

Keywords: Linguistic Anthropology,j Religion, Linguistic diachrony, Faith, Semantics